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How the gig economy is making life harder for North American workers (macleans.ca)
150 points by raleighm 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments



The gig economy is literally a product of a lack of economic security. As I've mentioned before, if suddenly people had enough money or assistance that they didn't need to gig to make ends meet, businesses like Uber and Lyft would have no more "independent contractors". They'd probably fold or have to raise prices above that of Taxis.


Maybe it's a different situation in other countries, but in New Zealand, a lot of uber drivers are actually former taxi drivers. They (at least used to) make more money driving for Uber than driving a taxi.

Taxis have always been a gig economy, it's just that you used to have a big sticker on the side of your car. Taxi drivers have never been paid a wage.


Not true, many taxi firms pay their drivers a wage. It's not as usual though.


Huh, did I really got downvoted (can't edit anymore)? I myself co-founded a taxi-like company (city-to-city, operating in the entire Europe) that pays its drivers an hourly wage (https://mydaytrip.com), and I personally know owners of taxi firms that pay hourly wages.


It's absolutely a desperation career. Those always exist somewhere in any economy, and arguably there should be options available for desperate people, but the sheer volume of them is getting sad. It's like the US has a very poor, developing country double-exposed over an insanely wealthy and advanced one, both occupying the same territory. I'm not a historian but it strikes me as very strange and somewhat new to the world.


Actually I suspect this has been somewhat the norm through out history, and the last 50-100 years have been some what odd.


Yes, but the "norm through out history" of course contains a lot of variations.

If you look at the UK or US during the Industrial Revolution (or China today) you will see poor people doing hard jobs and its all part of a huge economic build-up that makes everyone richer -- even if some people at the top could skim off fortunes.

But if you look at even broader history, such as Medieval Europe, or China and India for most of their history, you will still see industrious poor people. But there's little build-up -- just skimming by the people at the top.

I think modern India is somewhere in between those two modes. And sometimes I fear that western democracies are converging on the same in-between place, but from the other side.


>It's absolutely a desperation career.

Indeed it is. What's new is that companies have never been this successful to sell what is basically modern day labour as cool and hip and "good for you!".

I guess it only a matter of time until we see a resurgence of night lodgers as this revolutionary new alternative way of housing.


People don't use it because it's cool and hip, they use it because it's efficient and provides a valuable service.

Overhead for managing repetitive and time intensive labor work is high, so when a program can do it, that overhead drops, efficiency increases, and it becomes profitable.


Sorry, I'm honestly not sure I understand how your comment relates to mine.

I'm talking about the gig economy from a workers perspective.


Oops, my bad, I interpreted the people buying the uber rides and lyft rides as doing it because it's cool and hip, but I see you meant selling to the drivers, not the riders.


>I'm not a historian but it strikes me as very strange and somewhat new to the world.

It’s similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the opioid crisis taking the place of people drinking themselves to death.

You also see the same high-levels of corruption, especially in tech, where former Obama officials are given high-level jobs at the big firms or gig unicorns. Hell, even Obama himself just got a Netflix deal.


People are starting to see a lot of parallels between the US today and the Soviet Union when it fell. I recommend the book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible to get a good feel for that heady, depressing-yet-exciting fall of Rome zeitgeist.


It should be the other away around. The gig economy should only be for people that have economic security. If you've got food & rent covered some other way but want some extra cash for luxuries, it's nice to have the option to pick up a few gigs.

Much of the marketing for Uber drivers implies this fantasy.

Maybe BI will make this fantasy a reality.


> The gig economy should only be for people that have economic security.

This would be a form of scabbing: taking jobs away from people that don't have economic security, to give disposable income to people that do.


The point is: No one should have economic insecurity when it comes to basic needs.


Yet millions do. Now what?


Sorry, I wasn't clear; I was imagining a scenario where people weren't forced to choose crappy options. In that scenario people who needed economic security would choose options that actually gave it to them.


Serious question: in that world, who cleans the toilets?


Why should you not be paid a decent income to clean toilets?


Janitors, office employees... the normal.

These aren't gig jobs. They offer steady employment with predictable hours and wages. If everyone has a basic job contract (which is a right in some countries already), it is even more predictable. If the job itself isn't good enough for your basic economic needs, the safety net kicks in. If they lose their job, the safety net kicks in so they aren't struggling to get by with gigs. (Obviously idealized situation).

The point is that worker never is forced to piece together gigs to be able to pay for food, clothing, shelter, and other things society sees necessary to be a full citizen. The same employee might decide to save for a house, vacation, buy a newer vehicle, or something similar and then work gigs on top of his normal employment. It isn't that everyone will be paid well or that no one will clean toilets, but it may mean that companies like Uber would have to hire regular employees so they have the same sort of economic security as the janitor would.


companies will pay "cleaning companies" $20/hr for people who end up getting paid $10/hr to avoid the entanglement of needing to 'hire' employees directly at, say, $13/hr. There's often more nuance to that scenario - basically, most companies don't need full-time cleaners. However, it still strikes me as more than a bit odd.


People who are paid well? Shared responsibility?


People getting paid $100k/year or $200k/year to do that job? Wouldn't it be cool if robots did most things and people could make good money doing the not-very-fun things the robots can't do.


I don't think we are literally able to imagine the implications of an economic scenario where the market clearing wage for toilet cleaning is $200.000, with current purchasing parity (that is, every janitor could buy the equivalent of a nice suburban home, every year, or accumulate the equivalent of 100 acres / 40 hectares of land in capital, every year).

That world would have more to do with a Star Trek episode than with the current society.


You just described precisely why your scenario is impossible. Money is fundamentally just a representation of access to resources and labor, which are finite. You can create infinite money but you can't create infinite quantities of that which it represents.

There are about 1.9 billion acres of land in the continental united states. That works out to 5.8 acres per person. If people could afford to purchase 100 acres of land per year, and even a tiny percent of people utilized this - land prices would skyrocket. And a similar story would end up being true of other resources and labor costs.

In describing fantasy scenarios you have to consider the implications on the allocation of limited resources such that everything isn't just completely overwritten by inflation.


That's precisely why I used the phrases "equivalent land in capital" and "equivalent to a nice suburban home". In context, it should be obvious such a wealth explosion would cause an unfathomable real estate inflation.

While land is limited, wealth and capital are not. It's perfectly possible to posit a society where people own, say, shares of robotic mining companies that roam the solar system for resources. Or that values genuine human sexual intercourse to the tune of one million dollars per act, inflation adjusted. It's much harder to substantiate how such a society would actually look like.


In the US in 1960 one can find wage surveys[1] where one finds saleries of: Electric, gas, sanitary services: $6147/yr Wholesale and retail trade: $4478/yr

The first would be where janitors would go and retail is another poorly paid job today.

The average house cost in 1960 [2] was $11,900.

So with a house price of around two times yearly income, we get to about $100k wage for a janitor or retail clerk in 1960. US post WWII was a pretty unique situation, but one would hope that you should be able to more than imagine such a situation. You can study the existence of such a culture in the recent past and still talk to people who actually lived it.

[1](https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015021301612;vi...)

[2]https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/valu...


Using average housing prices is a poor proxy since both the average size and quality of homes have increased, while the US real estate market has had a very particular evolution, unrepresentative for the overall inflation. It was a bad choice on my part, I was trying to give an intuitive current wealth reference, not track housing trends over decades.

An inflation adjusted wage of $5000 in 1960 represents $42.500 in 2018, which is in line with the often repeated tidbit that real wages of blue collar workers have stagnated for decades.

Therefore, what you are describing is a world with similar real wages to those of today, and with real estate cheaper by a factor 2-3x, inflation and quality adjusted. That is indeed easy to imagine.

What I am describing is a world where real wages are 4-5 times larger. Yes, those wealth increases could be trapped by a ballooning real estate market, where a single bedroom semi is worth $2 million at current purchasing parity, making it very similar to your world. Or something else could happen entirely, that is almost impossible to predict.


That is a very interesting point you are making. While I'm sure we could(and most likely will) make sure no one suffers from hunger, has access to quality education(in the online form), and quality goods, things that cannot be mass produced/duplicated will become even more expensive-real estate in tourist cities, tropical/scenic places, art and so on.


>>>> I was imagining a scenario where...

Isn't the point of an imagined scenario not to be like current society in some way?


Sure, my point is that we are not really imagining it. It's like a 12 old imagining he could do his homework by tapping a magic wand, not realizing that possessing such a magic wand would make the whole concepts of homework, school or teachers irrelevant.


Employers will hire the best for the job. Don't mistake meritocracy for scabbing, nobody is entitled to somebody else's money. Employment is, after all, a consensual trade between two parties.


I think it’s UBI that’s the fantasy intended to prevent people from rebelling against this reality.


I actually consider gig economy as a possible replacement for UBI and jobs, but not in this centralised form (Uber, etc). Instead, communities or social networks of people without corporate jobs could become self reliant by working for each other, to solve the community needs on the whole. When corporations take our jobs we still have our needs and lots of free time - and our needs create jobs or gigs. We can still work to support ourselves.

Another step to enable self reliance would be the popularisation of new technologies such as open source software, 3d printing, solar power, cheap medical sensors, AI and DIY robotics (including agro-bots). Also, replacing banks with lending co-ops.

A small community on the size of a village or town could provide construction, schooling, medical services, servicing tools and machines and of course, agriculture - based on an internal marketplace of gigs or jobs. On the total the community could become more and more independent from the outside. Later on, when automation reaches maturity, the self supporting community could solve most of its needs without much human work and still be independent from the state (UBI) and large-corporation jobs.

Because companies are greedy and the state is corrupt, we need to take power back into our hands to prepare for the future.


Funny how this utopian sounding idea is just a regular market economy without sales and income tax. Like the US before 1913.

Too bad every time one interacts with someone else people with guns and prisons demand about 50% of the transaction. Set income and sales tax to zero and this could easily happen everywhere. It would be cool if some decent sized country would try it and use a land tax to fund the government.


Co-ops can establish private currency linked to trust scoring along many different criteria among a group-selected and group-maintained trust ontology (different types of exchange transactions can be scored along different trust metrics). Link an exchange rate to the "outside" currency that is adjusted by the high trust factor, and due to a far more frictionless trust environment, argue that a price in the private currency is 1/100 X, while the price in the outside currency is X.

Today's currencies fail to drag along with them all the logistical details market participants are really interested in about an exchange; that's why we have crude hacks like review platforms, credit scoring, insurance claims reports, etc. They're extremely information lossy exchange mechanisms, and these logistical details only hazily emerge after a long time in a fast-moving market, always a rear-view mirror picture of the market.


A land tax trickles down as increased agricultural and housing prices. So it's strongly recessive, that is, it affects the poor to a much greater proportion than the rich.

The US before 1913 was a largely agricultural nation with strong equality due to fair capital allocation, free land distributed to homesteaders, manifest destiny and all that. Dispensing current means of income redistribution would mean reverting to a much more feudal, almost primitive state. The vast majority of people would have no agricultural property and no capital, just wages paid by immensely wealthy global capitalists that wouldn't owe any taxes.


The idea that all taxes are ultimately paid for by consumers is dangerous, stupid and misleading. If companies/people could charge you more for whatever you are buying, they would. Taxation is largely paid for by reduced profitability, not increased prices.

Land taxes are one of the only ways to tax non-productive, rentier style wealth that has lots of fixed assets, and merely sits on them extacting money with very little positive economic input. Since it is they who are typically the most responsible for soaring housing and real estate prices (they buy properties and then do nothing with them, often times not even renting them out), to suggest such taxes are "strongly regressive" is pretty much exactly the opposite of reality.

Under a system with strong land taxes, such parties are incentivised strongly to either sell to people who want the land more (can make more money off of it by increasing density, thus pay more taxes) or to do so themselves. In a world without property tax, they are incentivised to just sit on the property forever, and do nothing to it, waiting for a huge payday far into the future.


Agricultural producers have razor thin margins almost anywhere in the world and face strong international competition. The rent seeking landowner gouging consumers through food prices is an ideological fantasy. Quite the opposite, there is a strong tendency to overproduction and subsidies.

A large land tax in such an ECON101 postcard-perfect market will immediately increase the costs of inputs to the point where production no longer makes economic sense. Either through decreased production or tariff protectionism the food prices will rise, passing the tax to consumers.

That's not say taxes are always passed down to consumers, that's a pure straw-man you conjure to hurl insults. But in these two cases, they are, to an overwhelming degree.


A land tax would reduce the price of land, and farmers would borrow less in the future to buy it.

In effect it would probably be a one off hit to real estate prices. I think the distortions of a land tax are better than others and support it.

I own real estate but it's only 5x my wage, the current system sucks - taxing human effort and creativity is about the worst thing you can tax.


Clearly, a tax on arable land would devalue it. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't also be reflected in food prices - and that is the absolute worst thing you can tax.

As for income taxes, they don't really tax creativity and human effort, except if you think of the world as a perfect meritocratic utopia where everyone has infinite positive liberties. But in that case, you wouldn't really need to tax anybody.

The revenue of an individual is generally strongly dependent on the social infrastructure they use to generate it. The same person, transplanted into another area of the world with less functional social institutions will generate orders of magnitude less money. For example, an American or British medic moving to the peaceful and English speaking country of Ghana: same creativity and effort, 5-10x less revenue, purchasing parity adjusted. It's only natural then for him to pay for his access to the rich society, thus enabling the public investments that allow such a rich society to exist in the fist place.


The people are the rich society. The people are the social infrastructure, created by them and their ancestors. Not seeing much positive investment by government these days for that 50% overhead.


How fast do you reckon the basic infrastructure would crumble without any public investment ? What would the crime rate be without any social transfers, food stamps, public education, jobs created in and by the government? How fast would society descend to gang war and warlords, absent any public defense and policing efforts?

The ideea that Americans or the British possess a hereditary, almost magical capacity to self organize in the absence of fiscal revenue, that other lesser civilised people lack, is deliciously naive.

That's not to say the governments of rich countries is the pinnacle of efficiency or forethought and shouldn't be kept strictly in check. But that much worse is possible, and that the failure of government has such drastic consequences to make 50% of your revenue the least of your concerns.


Interestingly where I live Ubers are usually 50% more expensive than taxis.


I happily pay a premium for Uber/Lyft; that’s how awful taxis are. I can’t go back.


Oh yeh me too, even when you use a similar app with taxis the service is awful. At least half the time they call you and cancel as they've just picked someone up on the way to you.


If im somewhere with taxis readily available (like the airport) i just ask the taxi driver if they will match uber's price. Saves me 5 minutes, pays the individual more $


I do the reverse when I’m in NYC. I find TLC cabs to be more reliable.

Everyone’s experiences are different!


Here in Dublin Uber is more expensive but taxis are really great so it is ok.


In my experience here in Indy, a large number of Uber (mind you, the bulk of my experience is Uber Eats) drivers are individuals that appear to be in their 60's, presumably retired persons looking to supplement their income and/or just have something to do.

I'd say roughly 5% of my drivers have appeared under retirement age. I wonder what the age statistics look like nationwide.


> On average, it estimated they were making $10.75 per hour in the Houston area, $8.77 per hour in Detroit, and $13.17 in Denver, which was slightly less than Walmart’s average full-time hourly rate in 2016

I'm not saying this is ok, but I think there are also more intangible things that come into play here. Working for Uber gives you the freedom to work when you want. You don't have to call in sick or find someone to take your shift. You just don't get in the car that day.

Which really, I think, is the allure of a lot of gig jobs: the ability to be your own boss (kinda).


It's the allure for sure but I imagine quite quickly gets proven wrong as you find yourself working certain hours due to higher rates and/or increased demand. With wages that low (these are Uber's own figures too) and close to no upward mobility career wise, it seems like a colossal dead end one could easily become trapped in.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of drivers failed to adequately budget for the maintenance costs of their car being used that more heavily too, which could abruptly land them in the red when a garage bill comes in.


>I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of drivers failed to adequately budget for the maintenance costs of their car

Nearly every car owner fails to adequately budget for (or even understand) the full cost of ownership of their car :)

Edit: I forgot my audience for a second. Guys, college-educated engineers and 1% developers aren't typical. People routinely fail to properly account for the TCO. The entire auto-sales model is centered around tricking people into accepting terms worse than the perceived TCO. Don't worry. I wasn't talking about you.


>Guys, college-educated engineers and 1% developers aren't typical.

Even a lot of college-educated engineers seem to not account for it. I was on vacation with a few guys (most of them engineers). This was for a very long road trip (~3000km). They wanted to give the drivers the gas costs. I said the gas costs only cover a minimal part of expenses. I even gave them a back of the envelope calculation (insurance costs + average maintenance costs per km, etc.). They all just said that's not what the car costs.

I said ok, I'm not willing to drive at that price. But I'll pay another person whatever the group agrees on, even if it's total cost in the end. They still went with gas costs.

Gas is like 10 Euro cents per km in Germany (depending on car). The government assesses 30 cents per km. For a newer car the costs are much higher.

I'm guessing the guy that drove incurred costs of roughly 50 cents per km (looking as his car was only 3 years old), and got back 10. That's 3000 * 0,4 = 1200€ he gifted the rest of us.

I find this "gas costs" approach only works if all of your friends drive roughly the same. But living in a European city only a third of us even owns a car.


Even many engineers fail to account for the environmental externalities, which I must be part of any "full cost" model.


I'm not sure why people fail to account for it, the IRS does the hard work and comes up with $0.53 per mile, so for most people just calculate how many miles you're traveling in a year and multiply by that, or add 20% to have a safe buffer. That includes the cost of gas, tire/oil changes, routine brake work.

Or every time you go somewhere, the cost of a roundtrip is the number of miles to reach your destination, in dollars (since each mile costs around 50 cents, or more). Plus some for tolls and the rising gas costs, but a 20% buffer should take care of that.

If you have a luxury car, add another 20% or 30%.


>The entire auto-sales model is centered around tricking people into accepting terms worse than the perceived TCO.

how? you mean long auto loan periods?


Rather, warranty that comes with mandatory technical inspections at authorized repair shops that cost you fortune, original spare parts that cost you another fortune, not to mention things like upgrading maps in your built in navigation system for 300 USD.


Well if you ever decide to freelance, expect the same. I mean there is a direct benefit/cost associated with working at specific times.

If you optimize purely for money, expect to pay up in convenience, and happiness frankly.


The allure of gig jobs is the ability to turn an arbitrary number of your unproductive hours and an idle car into money. Sometimes you really need that money.

I know some people who landed in hard situations where their usual day job would not be enough to cover rent + food + bills. But working the day job and spending 5-6 nights a week driving Uber would be enough. Granted: that's at the expense of not sleeping, not resting, running up their car's mileage, and possibly ruining their health. But the availability of the app has literally saved people from homelessness.


This is very sad. The last thing someone wants is a tired, exhausted driver driving them around.


See this is the problem. People just don't see giving other people a chance at a livable life as a factor in any decision.

Yes, it's probably less than ideal that tired drivers do this.

But, mostly, it's a very good thing that this person was able to survive and prevent another homeless family.

Let me guess, "the government should just provide for them ?" (without, of course, raising your taxes).


As someone coming from a country whose government sucessfully provides several means to prevent these kinds of scenarios, the idea of seeing this as a fundamentally good thing frankly strikes me as absurd.


As someone who's now lived in 5 countries let me just say : your post is absurd. All of those countries have governments that "successfully provide several means to prevent ..." and ... in none of them was it a problem to find people sleeping on the street. I never once actually tried to find them, incidentally. Just take some trains in any large city.

Which is that country that supposedly prevents these situations ? I'm sure finding a picture won't be a problem.

But I know, it makes you feel real good about your own worst-case future to think that doesn't happen. Now go out and talk to some older people that have had a bad run, and I guarantee, even in the Netherlands, you'll feel a whole lot worse about it. None of the other countries come even close to what the Netherlands supposedly does (If you don't mind living in a building where you get attacked daily for being old that is. Or the social worker doesn't like you. Or ... And let's just not discuss the waiting lines to get to talk to someone if something goes wrong)

I just don't know where people get the idea that the government has their back. Incomprehensible. I mean, sure they have rules and regulations that may help in specific situations (especially for rich guys to pay less tax I mean), but help people who are powerless ? Good luck with that.


Sheesh, do I really have to spell this out? No, I never talked about "preventing each and every single case of homelessness." Yeah, there's people on the street here in Vienna as well. There's enough harsh situations, of course.

But rest assured (and this not some "feel good feeling", but first hand knowledge of social workers in the field), there's not a single case of "a family that wouldn't have been homeless if the earner just had the opportunity of a second "gig economy" job".

And the systems in place here do work rather well (as long as you stay realistic - and I do know quite some harsh cases). People that really manage to fall through all the cracks have almost all the status of being unemployable/unfit for work (and I don't mean "sorry, but you're too old"-unemployable, but usually because of severe mental health issues and/or substance abuse).

I have to admit though: Looking at what our current government does at the moment, chances are I'll chime in with you in a few years...


Aye, it's not like our total tax rates are too far off from Western European economies as well. We just spend billions/trillions on other things


When you’re earning $9 to $14 an hour you don’t take time off.

When you’re earning so little you don’t have the freedom to take a day off because you feel unwell.


Having been in that category of worker and having taken gig jobs, I can promise you that the flexibility of the gig jobs really is a life improvement. I appreciate that you think you're looking out for people, but that kind of sentiment will end up actually harming people because you apparently don't know how we feel about things and can't support policies accordingly.


Erratic shift work in retail is definitely worse than gig work.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-retail-scheduling-2018...

“The Kmart in Los Angeles where Noemi Castro works often doesn't post her schedule until a few days before the week begins, she said. Days off frequently change, as do her hours. Last week, she got 26 hours; this week only eight. Sometimes, Castro said, a last-minute change is made to an online scheduling document without her knowledge. "The manager calls and says, 'Why aren't you here?' " she said.”


I worked in retail...this kind of bad management is everywhere. You expect me to show up when you changed the schedule and didn't tell me? Are you fucking kidding me?

Fuck retail, and food service. Seriously.


I avoided retail work after having lived through this (no notice schedule changes) over a single Christmas season. At least when I worked construction sites and warehouses the shifts were static.


Not to mention, “we” is a pretty varied group. I’ve met Uber drivers who were refugees trying to survive in America and I met one who was a retired Stanford surgeon who just liked to get out of the house and meet people a few times a week. He picked me up in a BMW 5-Series.


Similarly, one of the hosts (software engineers) on _The Bike Shed_ podcast mentioned driving people around for Lyft in his Tesla just for the excuse (and justification, since it must more than cover fuel) to drive it.


This is pretty much my favorite misfeature of modern American food service jobs. I never want the people handling my food to sneeze. Alas, that’s not the world I live in.


> You don't have to call in sick

And in countries that have sick leave, it means that you don't get paid for your day off sick.

You also don't have a minimum wage as a contractor, because when you're not driving a passenger, you're not "working". For countries with strong labour laws like Australia, it's a massive erosion of workers rights. Most Uber Eats drivers and riders are also making less than minimum wage for the hours they are working. Plus there are no penalty rates for working nights, weekends, or public holidays.


I wonder how much the true cost is to the driver, not only are they having to pay fuel costs but the more miles a car does the less it's worth. It's almost like swap deal, swapping the future value of your car in return for cash today.


Factor in wear and tear on the seats/interior as well, that driving aro7nd by yourself wouldn’t normally occur (unless you have kids)


Is the hourly rate before or after taxes? Don't forget as independent contractors you have to pay way more in tax than as W2 employee, so take home income will be significantly less.


Disheartening. Interesting article. We need to get healthcare uncoupled from jobs.


This is completely right. I don't think people realize how much tying healthcare to full time employment hurts people and slow innovation.

It makes people stick in bad situations and disadvantages small businesses both financially and in wasted time.


Health care has leeched a huge amount of wage growth from the economy, in businesses large and small.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-09-28/health-ca...


It is an interesting way of seeing it. The way I look at it is that by not having universal healthcare, like the rest of the civilized world, is costing you a lot of money to sustain.

Take for example Lantus insulin. My gf needs about a box a month and in the US is at least $289.46. Here in Ireland without insurance you pay 40€ and we pay only 5 euro when properly insured. Actually you can apply for chronic disease card and it is free to you, those 5 euro cover all. Checking strips, insulin meter, needles, all covered. So it is not healthcare what is expensive, it is making money out of you.


Well, in trade for health care ... yes. In the same way cars and TVs have "caused" a huge amount of debt.


Cars and TVs go down in price for the same feature set as technological improvements and nor efficient business models are created. Healthcare has gotten more expensive every year for the same features(ex, a physical, or treatment for the flu). That is where healthcare is leeching money out of the economy.

They haven't provided any improvements in service or products, they've just learned how to wring more money out of everyone


First, cars haven't gone down much in price. Advanced in quality, sure. Gone down in price ? Hardly, at least in my experience. About 8-14 months net pay. TVs have gone up massively, mostly because flatscreens make ridiculous TVs possible. A CRT screen just can't be big. 50" is ridiculously large for a CRT, and anything under 40" is just unusable, so there just wasn't much difference between the cheapest and the most expensive screen in the 90s. Then, when plasma screens came, the prices for the top end went utterly ridiculous. But in the 90s you just couldn't spend a month's pay on a (single) TV. Now, 32000$ screens are in every electronics store (who do they sell these to I often wonder).

But the thing is, eliminating labor from healthcare seems to just be impossible to do in a responsible manner. So their prices go up with specialist labor prices. And yes, those have not exactly gone down. As for actual prices for basic things, I do get the impression they've gone down. Not by a lot, but 20-30% over a decade or two ? Certainly.


>TVs have gone up massively, mostly because flatscreens make ridiculous TVs possible.

Your assertions about price movements sound rather curious as they appear nearly the opposite of what is obtained by people whose job it is to measure these things. https://fee.org/media/17509/prices2-1.png

https://fee.org/articles/why-large-screen-tvs-are-affordable...


Looking at that article, they are comparing same-for-same tv sizes, and essentially saying that the 40" TVs are really cheap now.

I'm saying the biggest TVs (the ones that everybody seems to buy, like 100" and up) are far more expensive than the biggest TVs used to be 20 years back.

Also that article argues for competitive private healthcare. We've tried that. We know where that leads. Trust me, you don't want that.

It also comes with such insightful statements as this one: "Consider each product or service shown. College is heavily subsidized, regulated, and exclusionary, and the costs are soaring."

Yes this whole student loan thing we keep hearing about ... nothing to do with anything, right ?


A very limited number of features have improved (e.g. if you have HepC). At the same time there has been massive price inflation for things that are marketed as "improvements" without convincing evidence of actually being better (e.g. nexium vs prilosec, many medical devices).


The gig economy is already bad enough for workers but in the US it's even worse due to the health care situation. We should get rid of any advantages corporations have over individuals like health insurance.


Do you have the scourge of zero hour contracts in the US? Basically a person can be contractually obligated to work when demanded but with no guarantees of minimum hours or salary.


I don't think we call it that, but I don't see much diff between "zero hour contracts" and the random shift scheduling others have mentioned. One week you have 25 hours, the next week you have 5, but you don't know and can't plan around it. There may be a technical/legal distinction, but the practicality of it seems the same.


No, I think at-will employment is the principle that makes that illegal. No judge or jury would hold up such a contract as binding.


That's plain evil and should be illegal.


But the USA oligarchy want to keep it that way.


Absolutely. As an independent contractor with an autoimmune disorder, I make good money but it's still an absolute nightmare. I really hope the current administration doesn't bring back the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage for a pre-existing condition, because I can't imagine a reliable way to secure coverage that never has any gaps.


Amen. I'm making a career change and my wife is going bay to work and half our questions about a new job... healthcare benefits, not necessarily the better career choice...


There's a very reasonable proposal right here that would do it: https://berniesanders.com/medicareforall/ It could happen in a few years. Something to look forward to. :)


We need to stop importing children and adults until we make sure all current citizens have jobs. Not everyone has cancer nor needs healthcare. The truly broke get it for free. Only thing not covered is cosmetic dentistry like non silver fillings and partial dentures and brand name medication.


I hear immigration come up a lot when healthcare does, but most homeless in the US are US citizens suffering from mental disorders. From the numbers I've read, immigrants tend to be the most economically productive compared to US citizens of the same economic class.

That said, I think it'd be cheaper to provide preventative care for free than it would be to cover ER visits for the same number of uninsured people. Tends to be cheaper and a bit more humane.


Our system is such a disaster, even "preventative care" can be a wolf in sheep's clothing. There's basically nothing to disincentivize doctors or pharma from aggressively selling drugs and procedures that give no benefit or even cause harm.


How about we just vote for single payer? Simple. The truly broken end up homeless in the end.. unless by magic you find section 8. And then there is the paperwork, the miles and miles and miles of paperwork. And then, soon, there will be the work means test. No medical if you don't work. Got cancer? Too bad, work. The only positive is that it equalizes medicaid with the working stiff... which might bring about single payer faster.


For non-speakers of American English: though "gig" is well known to mean "short-term/casual work", the use of "gigged" in the title is likely a pun: "gigging" or "to gig" is to hunt small game with a pronged spear: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigging

A usage which sadly underlines the fate of most gig workers.


Keep this gig economy thing away from me. Companies promoting this business model (whether car lifting, food delivery, or temporary housing) are exploiting all parties involved, while damaging the local environment. Everyone, except them, is getting the short end of the stick.


Have you eaten in at a take out place lately? It's literally nothing but ageing, disheveled looking people who could barely operate a smartphone running in and out desperately, working either Uber Eats, Doordash, etc. stacking orders, getting stressed out over maybe making $3. It's the most depressing fucking thing I have ever seen.

Maybe there's an argument to be made that these people are better off than they would be otherwise. But I'm not so sure it's that simple. You have this zero sum game where the health and well being of humanity is being arbitraged for VC profits and increased efficiency for the restaurant owner.


> But I'm not so sure it's that simple.

At this point I was expecting an explanation of how an similar number of low-skilled people would have jobs if these services didn't exist.

Instead you give the unexplained assertion

> You have this zero sum game ...

Which game is it? Who are the players? What is zero-sum about it?


>Which game is it? Who are the players? What is zero-sum about it?

It's the same game they're playing with AirBnB, Uber, etc. Just openly break the law and subvert centuries of built up labor laws and protections we've created to make America into a livable society, just to profit a small minority of shareholders. The players are the American people, with no choice left but live with this system because more equitable uses of this capital aren't perceived to give investors "10x returns". There used to be an agreement in the US between Capital and Labor that struck a fair deal, and this agreement has fundamentally eroded. What benefits and rights that did still exist in jobs up to this point are gone for most people. The result is a zero sum game, where human suffering is converted to shareholder profits.


Tell me about taxi drivers and labor law. I used to drive a taxi and I paid $110 per day to rent the taxi, paid the gas, if I damaged the car, I paid for that out of my pocket and then I get to try and hustle rides from the airport where I had to pay for ticket for the right to pick up a passenger — then, due to airport fixed rates, I might drive that person to the other side of town and make $65.

Driving a taxi was horrible. Anyone that laments Uber has never driven a taxi.


You seem to be arguing that, in balance, there are more low-paying jobs where the government can convince employers to increase wages, rather than the employers closing down and looking for another enterprise to pursue. Otherwise, even on aggregate, you are actively harming low-skilled or desperate workers who are looking for a job.

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that this is true - labor laws and protections increase wages in aggregate enough to account for all the jobs that are abandoned because they are not profitable enough to pay the required wages. There's one more thing to consider in Uber's case - the regional availability for jobs. Can we assume that the low-skilled adequate-income jobs you create through labor laws would be concentrated in richer towns, richer neighbourhoods, where the industry and market can afford the higher wages? What about the poorer neighbourhoods/towns? Uber(well, taxi service) allows people there to take a job which might not be available to them otherwise, without moving to a different town/neighbourhood.


Look at my last post (-4). Youre not allowed to criticize the almighty dollar, vulture...err venture capitalists, employment arbitrage firms, quasi-legal companies, or other horrendously unethical behavior. Why? Because there's a company doing it, and others making money on humans' suffering.

But hey, I got that hamburger faster and $1 off the delivery.


Are you joking that the low wages are flowing through to VCs?

Some people wonder whether the VCs will even make out their invested money in Uber/Doordash cases. I've heard that in many cities Uber/Doordash/friends are subsidizing the marginal order in order to grow.

Make no mistake, currently the marginal gains are flowing through to customers. We like to blame faceless large corporations, the "others" for the fall of liveable, stable, wages. But the fault in some sense is in our selves. We, the individual customer, are driving this dynamic by being huge sticklers for the lowest price possible.

We individuals talk a good game about a fair livable society, until it comes around to saving $1 on your next Uber / Doordash fare.


Totally agree- have seen the vibe you describe above at numerous restaurants lately. The part that saddens me is the food recipient tends to take it out on the delivery person, "Food was cold!! ZERO STARS, NO TIP!!" when in actuality that person was given an impossible task- to deliver more food per hour than the laws of physics over time and distance would allow without teleportation.

I work in property development and also see this happening more and more frequently for contractor and appliance delivery people... instead of showing up to deliver your appliance, they mark you as "not home" or "unavailable" and skip attempting delivery or install altogether- that way they get to bring the stuff back to the warehouse, don't have to bother wasting time attempting to delivery it and the guy on the next shift has to deal with it.


Sssshhhh, or you'll come up with another very real factor: the utter inability of people to accept the slightest compromise on anything. Quality, nope. Price, nope. Even just taking the delivery person's job into account a bit, nope.

Perhaps I should stop being surprised when hearing about people going into the emergency room because they have a scratch on their leg, then yelling and even attacking medical personnel to the point they get arrested when prompt treatment is not provided.

And then apply that attitude to actual people. Needless to say, they complain about that too, yet do nothing.


Not only that but as a consumer the experience doesn't feel that much better. Sure there are lots more places that deliver but I now feel like I pay more after delivery fee+ service fee + tip.


The real cost of 'disruption'


The wait staff at the restaurants usually don't get tipped on those kinds of orders either. And in most of the US the wait staff are only making $2.13 an hour or something like that.


Dude. CA minimum wage was more than that in the 1970s.


The $2.13 number is the minimum an employer has to pay to tipped employees. If the amount of tips plus $2.13 is less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, the employer must make up the difference:

https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/minwage.pdf

I don't believe the California minimum wage law has tip credit.


In Australia, the people who look to be doing deliveries of this sort (by bike, etc) seem to be students. Actually, I can't recall ever (20 years+) having had takeaway delivered by anyone who looks over about 30-35yo.

Waitstaff in restaurants are typically younger here too. In visiting the US, it's seemed that there are a lot more "career" waitstaff whereas in Australia that happens more in small owner-operator establishments, or very premium restaurants.


As an aside, on the subject of waitstaff in restaurants, when I was in Oz visiting family, I noticed that while in the coastal cities I saw a broad range of faces in a broad range of situations, but once I was a few hundred miles inland, the only non-white faces I saw were serving me food; they certainly weren't students. It very much felt like there were two Australias.

I expect that's true everywhere, really, in various ways.


On the one hand my first impulse is to ask “What’s the supply-side version of caveat emptor?” but if companies like Uber are hiding the true pay of their IRS-1099 “gig workers” then I have to wonder if they aren’t running afoul of disclosure or fair labor laws as well.


What’s the supple-side version of caveat emptor?

How do you mean?

"Employer beware" would be cave dico. Provider beware, provisor cave.

Though it's not clear what dynamic you're pointing to.


Actually employer beware would be "cave conductor". Dico means "I say".

Provisor comes from the verb vidi, and means "one who sees ahead," but I suppose you can use "patronus" instead to mean provider. So provider beware should be "cave patrone".


Granted my Latin's weak. I was more interested in meaning than the linguistics lesson.


I never had a full time job, and i think of it as of a very, very odd thing. I know there are areas where it is necessary (say upper levels of management, public servants, and doctors in areas of healthcare where it's all about collective efforts, not private practice).

But for the most people, being full time is nothing but a form of psychological exploitation. People were generationally taught to value the (false) sense of stability it provides in return for being paid much less, and many social institutions such as mortgages, were built on top of that to reinforce, and take advantage of, that odd thing.

If it dies for about 80% of population i'll see it as a benefit, and i feel totally comfortable with it. I fully realise that i am totally unemployable as i am: hiring me full time and paying me what i make will be simply unprofitable for almost every potential boss. And many better qualified people than me 'happily' work for the fraction of what i make because they are addicted to these guaranteed twice a month paychecks, unable to imagine their life without these 'guarantees', which are nothing but guaranteed misery.

And yes i am 38 and have a family.


> the (false) sense of stability it provides

What's false about it?


Essentially, this is because the companies themselves are living for much shorter than they used to. And their 'useful lives' (when working there can provide for any career advancement, improving one's skills, personal growth) is even shorter.


Because most of the time, need to fire a worker who held for a time period longer than a typical contract duration of a contractor, comes when the company itself goes bust. When nothing can help you regardless of your employment status.


What’s going to happen to gig wages when the economy hits a recession?


If there is anything beautiful about Uber it's that the marketplace maintained in each city is a relatively pure expression of supply and demand.

A recession in which unemployment rates increase would probably lead to an increase in drivers (supply) from the displaced employees and a decrease in people with disposable income to take Ubers (demand) leading to a reduction in cost per ride and the associated driver wages (unit price). Given the sheer number of countries Uber operates in, the company has probably already seen this happen more than once. What happens to driver wages and Uber as a company in the event of a global recession is harder to predict since that would be unprecedented for the company.

Maybe having Uber available as a source of income during a recession would be a good thing for the recently unemployed?


People have a tendency to stay home more and "nest" during a recession. Or if they do go out, like in the last recession, people went to the movies. Which is why theaters rebounded in 2009-2010.


More gig workers will be competing for fewer tasks.


They'll go down or reach zero?


Reminds me of "The Market Fairy Will Not Solve the Problems of Uber and Lyft":

> Here is the thing about Uber and Lyft (and much of the “sharing economy”).

> They don’t pay the cost of their capital.

> The wages they pay to their drivers are less than the depreciation of the cars and the expense of keeping the drivers fed, housed, and healthy. They pay less than minimum wage in most markets, and, in most markets, that is not enough to pay the costs of a car plus a human.

http://www.ianwelsh.net/the-market-fairy-will-not-solve-the-...?

Like with the electric scooter companies. You're not paying for the scooter, you can buy one of those. You're paying for the service of being able to leave your scooter in public somewhere and have someone else collect and recharge it.


Success but by your own bootstrap. Hell hath no fury if you unionize.


This really needs reposted:

Uber is an Old Scam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGwZcR0q6VE

Seriously, watch the video. Professor Richard D Wolff.

Long story short, when taxis first came out, we saw the following: unsafe everything, assaults, kidnappings (pay more or you get dropped in $bad_location), wrecks and injuries and no insurance. The result of that was regulation, which improved conditions for riders and drivers both, but raising the bottom line.

It's only time until the regulation hammer hits Uber and similar businesses.


The gentleman in the video has a couple of good points (and it is likely that Uber will eventually get regulated). That being said, the premise here seems to be confused on a number of issues.

+ "Unsafe everything, assaults [and] kidnappings" are in fact already illegal. More regulation will not make them more illegal. Claiming we need a taxicab commission to enforce basic laws is a non-sequitur of breathtaking scope.

+ There was a vibe that Uber will compromise the customer experience to make more money. This is nonsense, uber is operating in a cut-throat environment where any cost savings will be passed directly to consumers who are getting what they pay for. As one questioner pointed out at the end, Uber isn't actually making a profit. Any cuts in quality are being passed on to the customer in reduced fares.

+ Insufficient insurance. This one is one that is up for debate; but the message of 'insurance good, profit bad' is probably oversimplifying the issue and likely pushing an outcome where everyone has to pay more for transport without a proportional improvement in outcomes. The speaker might feel better about that, but I doubt the Uber passengers would.


+ "Unsafe everything, assaults [and] kidnappings" are in fact already illegal. More regulation will not make them more illegal. Claiming we need a taxicab commission to enforce basic laws is a non-sequitur of breathtaking scope.

Indeed they are already illegal, however adequate checks are not done on those who want to be people driver. That effect of not actually doing due diligence does allow much higher incidence of bad actors in positions of power.

+ There was a vibe that Uber will compromise the customer experience to make more money. This is nonsense, uber is operating in a cut-throat environment where any cost savings will be passed directly to consumers who are getting what they pay for.

Bullshit. They have one of the hottest stock request IPOs out there. A year ago their estimated market cap was $50B. Now its estimated at $70B. Sure doesn't sound like a no-profit company.

+As one questioner pointed out at the end, Uber isn't actually making a profit. Any cuts in quality are being passed on to the customer in reduced fares.

Hollywood accounting. And foregoing profit to starve the market is also a perfectly valid strategy. In other words, the lack of profit is intentional and easily reversed at will.


> Indeed they are already illegal, however adequate checks are not done on those who want to be people driver. That effect of not actually doing due diligence does allow much higher incidence of bad actors in positions of power.

You're going to need actual statistics for that. Claiming that we can detect a class of people who are acceptable citizens except under the specific circumstance that they are acting as a chauffeur isn't a reasonable position. Either they are dangerous and should be locked up or they aren't. Their status as a taxicab driver isn't going to be relevant. They would be just as dangerous if they were unemployed, if not more so.

> Bullshit. They have one of the hottest stock request IPOs out there. A year ago their estimated market cap was $50B. Now its estimated at $70B. Sure doesn't sound like a no-profit company.

Pretty sure the profit line is in the red for 2017. You might find yourself on the wrong side of the facts here, even if they don't conform to your worldview.

> Hollywood accounting.

Always willing to be corrected, but Hollywood accounting is a fairly specific practice where they claim specific projects made a loss so they don't have to pay the actors, but the profits still appear in a different part of a controlled conglomerate.

What you are alleging is tax fraud, which is also illegal as it happens. And, again, nothing to do with regulation of the taxi industry, in America I believe it is an issue for the the IRS. Companies in competitive markets have a lousy track record of unilaterally deciding their profits need to be higher. Its investors believe Uber can make a profit, but there isn't any evidence of that yet. They are taking a pretty substantial risk.


You make a lot of good points but I question this,

> And foregoing profit to starve the market is also a perfectly valid strategy. In other words, the lack of profit is intentional and easily reversed at will.

If they start raising rates what stops their customer base from migrating? I see how companies capture their community and there is friction to move, such as Facebook or even Twitter or Reddit.

I don't see the same loyalty to Uber. My speculation is the real decider will be self driving vehicles and I have no inside knowledge of how far these companies are but I also think there is an issue of superficial good enough vs true self sufficient (and safe) driving vehicles.

I would bet on Waymo over Uber, I just don't see how the business model of subsidized fares is sustainable or easily reversible without creating space in the market for competitors (and self driving is on the horizon).


>Bullshit. They have one of the hottest stock request IPOs out there. A year ago their estimated market cap was $50B. Now its estimated at $70B. Sure doesn't sound like a no-profit company.

So, Uber has outperformed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC's one-time market cap of $64B.


This is only the beginning, automation is coming fast to disrupt gig workers, then situation will be worse.




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